There is a completely perfect performance in the middle of a wildly imperfect movie called “It’s All Gone Pete Tong.” That performance belongs to British actor Paul Kaye, who brilliantly creates one of the most astonishing figures to come across the screen in recent years: Frankie Wilde, the coked-up Cockney DJ who fuels the European club scene and dance music production genre until he goes stone deaf – at which point he makes a dramatic comeback as the first hearing-impaired DJ and dance music producer.
With straw blond hair riding askew atop his skull, ice blue eyes gazing out with maniacal extremes of emotion, jagged teeth which would make a dentist cringe and a spindly body that makes Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow look like one of the musclemen of “Pumping Iron,” Kaye is both a sight for sore eyes and a cause for sore eyes. And his thick Cockney swing on the language (the film’s title is a Cockney rhyming slang) adds a cacophonous element to the visual assault of his presence. But whether jiving the clubland beat, banging his deaf head against a wall, forcing himself to learn lip reading or simply blowing puffs on his ever-present cigarette, Kaye’s Frankie Wilde is a force of nature. Maybe not the prettiest element of nature, but one which cannot be ignored. The sight of Kaye’s character playing tennis in a bathrobe while juggling a glass of whisky and a cigarette is perhaps the most memorable display of casual hedonism put on film.
Yet for all of Kaye’s efforts, “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” never quite finds its way. It tries to veer into music mockumentary (complete with interviews including real DJs including the real Pete Tong), but it is never satiric enough to devastate the world it is poking fun at. It also veers into the courageous cripple genre of inspiring impairment stories, with a late-blooming love between Wilde and a pretty deaf lip-reading teacher, but there is too much treacle there for it to connect into the footage that came before it. There is also the matter of symbolizing Wilde’s out-of-control coke habit with the repeated visits of a large badger in a pink apron, but that feels like a riff on the big rabbit of “Donnie Darko” – and that subplot degenerates into nasty violence which is neither funny nor shocking.
If “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” had a better focus on its storyline, the movie would be a new classic. But even with its imperfections, Paul Kaye’s tornado screen presence more than compensates for any flaws here. If there is a reason to seek this one out, it is with Kaye’s KO of a performance.